Why Your Baby Or Toddler Wakes Up Crying – And What To Do About It

If your baby or toddler wakes up from their nap crying, wakes up in the middle of the night crying or screaming, or starts the day crying, do these things.


There’s nothing like feeling happy and satisfied that your little one is sleeping well only for your little one to wake up crying.

It’s hard to tell if it’s over-tiredness.

Or baby is angry for some reason.

Or, perhaps, whiny for some other reason.

Sometimes it feels like sleep issues are mysteries and we don’t have any clues. OH BUT WE DO, MAMA. As a mom of 5 and certified baby and toddler sleep consultant, I will get you where you want to go.

Reasons why little ones wake up crying from sleep

There are, of course, a lot of reasons babies may wake up crying in a general sense. But if your baby or toddler wakes up from naps or sleep regularly crying often, there’s likely one or two key reasons.

  • Sickness or ear ache (medical reasons babies won’t sleep).
  • Overtiredness. This means baby is waking up but is still not well rested. They may have slipped through the night but are not caught on actual sleep. This can take a few days if baby’s coming from a major sleep deficit.
  • Sleep inertia. This is a type of confusional arousal where baby is awake, but not fully awake. Because they actually need more sleep to be caught up so they’re caught in a state of not fully awake but not fully asleep.
  • Hunger. Of course, we have to mention toddlers waking up from naps needing a snack and babies waking up from naps because they are ready to feed.
  • Transitioning through sleep cycles, but not ready to get up. Some babies wake up because they have a “job to do” and can’t get through the sleep cycle and keep sleeping. Basically, they’re not done sleeping but they have to wake up because they don’t know how to get back to sleep on their own.
28 things to try if baby won't sleep, baby in crib

28 Things To Do If Baby Won’t Sleep CHECKLIST

Here’s a handy dandy list of 28 things to try so baby will stop fighting sleep and sleep longer and later.

Generally speaking, babies who are well-rested and well-fed on a predictable routine don’t wake up crying.

When you have a daily routine that meets babies needs before they have to cry for them, you’ll find they are simply more agreeable and less fussy.

Not all babies, some are simply more difficult, but on the whole, a good routine makes for a happy baby.

Solutions to help little babies and toddlers wake up happy, not fussy

Let’s dive into specifics on how to make sure your little one is getting enough sleep and wakes up well-rested.

Get a good daily routine going

Whether you are more of a go with the flow or a routine type person, your little one will thrive on a routine. Some moms belabor choosing a nap schedule or using wake windows, but either way you’re watching a clock.

Babies who are on a routine don’t need to cry to get fed. They don’t need to cry to get put down for nap. They are simply fed before they’re starved and put down to sleep before they’re exhausted.

Honestly, there’s no cons to a routine.

  • Newborn sleep schedule
  • 3 month routine
  • 6 month routine
  • 9 month routine
  • 12 month routine
  • 1 year old routine
  • 2 year old routine
  • 3 year old routine
  • 4 year old routine

In short, if your little one is consistently waking up crying and being fussy, try an age appropriate routine.

Prevent over tiredness (which leads to sleep inertia)

Over tiredness is a very big fat scourge on baby’s moods. And if you get into an overtired cycle (when baby is too tired to eat and then too hungry to sleep) you are in a real jam.

That said, it’s a jam you can break out of. If baby is waking up crying because they haven’t had enough sleep consistently you can remedy that. And yes, sometimes baby will sleep all night and wake up angry or unhappy in the morning.

Even after what you think is enough sleep. This happens if they’re not consistently getting enough restorative sleep. Or if their sleep is interrupted by a lot of wake ups.

  • Make sure your little one is on an age appropriate routine and give it a week or two to ensure baby adjusts.
  • Ensure baby can sleep independently (get to sleep and stay asleep on their own) so they don’t need to rely on you for this, which creates a lot of work for them.
  • Help settle them when they wake up early (see next point).

Avoid Second Winds At Bedtime

This free guide gives you the main 4 reasons little ones won’t settle at bedtime (or stall, keep coming out, cause power struggles, etc.) and what to do!

Watch and see if it’s sleep cycle transitioning or truly a wake up

When little ones transition through sleep cycles they can often wake up crying. This happens when they don’t know how to get to sleep on their own.

Or when baby has a sleep prop and needs you.

Often babies will take short catnaps of 45 minutes or so and wake up. This may seem like baby is waking up from the nap crying, but more likely baby is crying because they aren’t finished with the nap but can’t get back to sleep.

  • Help baby transition through the sleep cycle by developing a settling strategy.
  • Try and lengthen naps by putting baby to nap before they’re too overtired.
  • Don’t rush in to get baby, give them a chance to whine and gristle for a bit and see if they’ll go back to sleep. Rushing in further wakes your little one up.

Create hard wake ups and bedtimes

When a baby is fussy or whiny and waking up crying in from sleep, I suggest set morning times (within 30 minutes) and set bedtimes. This will help baby develop their circadian rhythm. Wind down routines will help your little one settle down to get ready to sleep.

Part of your daily routine will include a morning time that makes sense based on your baby’s age. No sleeping until 9am, then napping irregularly, then napping too late, then staying up until 10pm. If this is happening, it’s exactly why baby wakes up from sleep crying.

Because this type of accidental schedule only works with angel babies. Or if you have 1 child and can do any ole thing without inconvenience.

  • How to get baby to sleep longer in the morning
  • Baby bedtime rituals
  • Yes, you should wake a sleeping baby

Make sure you are feeding predictably

Another thing to do to help make sure baby is settled and doing well is to feed on a predictable routine. Depending on your baby’s age, see the routines I listed above and try and aim for those.

  • Aim for full feeds, no snacking. Snacking creates an overtired cycle and they are too tired to eat and too hungry to sleep.
  • Give solids when it’s time. Don’t wait for baby to turn one and say baby will eat when they like, just do baby led weaning or whatever works with your values. But by 6 months they need food and they will be hungry and develop sleep issues from hunger. It’s often why 7 months old have sleep issues. They’re starved so waking a lot at night… to eat.

You can support your little one during any sleep regressions and get baby to sleep well. We will help!

The post Why Your Baby Or Toddler Wakes Up Crying – And What To Do About It appeared first on A Mother Far from Home.

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